David Nash is an artist and sculptor based in Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales. Robin Edwards aka R.Seiliog is a musician and sound artist based in Snowdonia, Wales. Generally speaking their works are completely separate and as far as I’m aware they have no personal relationship. However, with Ash Dome their works and in a small way their stories come together, for brief moments perhaps, but their respective art meets and mingles and enhances the other in a very natural, flowing kind of way.
Some of Nash’s most famous sculptures are pieces that change over time, or the environment around them changes over time, impacting and altering our perceptions of the sculpture itself. A classic example is/was Nash’s Wooden Boulder, a large carved wooden sphere that Nash left in the rugged landscape of North Wales, only for the boulder to slip, be pushed, be moved by flood waters etc. The boulder travelled around basically, sometimes naturally and sometimes with human or animal assistance. It meant that the artwork was constantly evolving and constantly changing and in a sense it had a life of its own. Eventually, after years of resting in the estuary of the River Dwyryd Wooden Boulder disappeared, and so far has never been found despite the best and intensive efforts of the artist. Another example which I’m personally very familiar with is Seventy-one Steps located at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park between Barnsley and Wakefield. These huge oak steps climb gradually from the lake to the top of the valley and again the sculpture is ever changing, both through erosion as the path and steps are worn away and through the constantly changing environment, as trees shed their foliage and blue bells coat the woodland floor around the steps.
That brings us to Ash Dome, a growing or living sculpture by David Nash. In 1977 Nash planted 22 ash trees in Wales, curved into a dome like structure and left to grow and change over time as society and the rest of the world carried on almost completely oblivious. R.Seiliog’s new album Ash Dome draws its title and its compositional inspiration from this living sculpture. It is more than just the title that the album has in common with some of Nash’s works.
Ash Dome (the album) has the same feel of evolution and change contained within it. On different listens you hear different things just as with Nash’s work you see different things each time you visit those sculptures. Not only is there an immersive depth and diversity to the record but there is a mystic quality to the music that makes it almost spectral at times. It has the ability to allude and confound you one minute and then grab hold of you and physically shake you the next. That makes the album sound jarring or disjointed but it isn’t, it is just a very cleverly composed record with lots going on.
Gwlith ’77 opens with field recordings of running, bubbling water, the sound of the wind and footsteps walking perhaps along a woodland path before ambient modular sounds float into the mix and ease you into the album. It sounds like an arrival or a birth and as the opening track I suppose it is. Gwlith translates into English as ‘dew’ (I think) and it brings to mind an image of David Nash walking through the Welsh countryside on a spring morning, dew soaking his boots, ready to plant those ash trees in 1977. It is a simple yet very powerful way to open the album.
Onnen 22 is a buzzing electronica piece that whilst up-tempo contains a subtle hint of dark adventure. Translated from Welsh to ‘Ash 22’, a picture or rather a story is starting to emerge within the album. In The Direction Of Sunlight is a glitchy, bright piece of music that feels like it is growing as it progresses. You can read too much into these things sometimes but perhaps that represents the growth of the ash trees, reaching and stuttering towards the sunlight season after season. Rotunda is a pensive, ambient track with flourishes of synth sound that imitate a choir, or perhaps it is a vocal dropped down into the mix to sound like the electronic ambient glow of the track itself. Whatever that sound is, it reaches upwards, towards heaven or angels or the sun and you feel yourself float there with the music. Mind Garden is an introspective, elegiac piece of music with hints of neo-classical composition and a touch of new age mindfulness music as well. You feel like you’re inside the ash dome here, tucked away from the world but still in the very heart of nature and the track ends with bird song and the sound of distant waves. Wherever you are, this is a special place; a place to think and reflect and perhaps meditate.
Emerald Sylvan is one of the pieces of music on Ash Dome that remains allusive and endlessly fascinating. On first listen you hear the subtle ambient trajectory of the piece and the slight hint of psychedelica contained within. But further listens reveal other layers and you find yourself somewhat lost, struggling for meaning and finding it difficult to locate the things you heard on first listen. It has an organic energy and poise, it is peaceful and yet hard to get a handle on. Unobtrusively there is a drone feel to the music, buried below the bells and tonal electronics. It manages to be ancient, to be of the 1970s and to be completely modern at the same time. It conjures images of druids and the old Celtic folklore that is so ingrained in parts of the Welsh landscape, yet there is also a pastoral folk feel to it, the Ghost Box 70s sound of a world and a future that never quite came to pass, of a time when Nash would be planting his trees. And then you listen again and it is just a beautiful modern piece of electronic ambient music, without that history and without that folklore. It is a piece of music I have come back to repeatedly over the last week or so.
The closing track Chalara is another piece of music that is difficult to pin down and all the more interesting because of it. There are elements of drone, electric noise, space electronica and field recordings contained here. It is relaxing and mindful if you want it to be or you can let yourself be overwhelmed and absorbed by it. It ends once again back in nature, back with the ash trees and the birds and the sunlight. And that returning to nature, the way some of the tracks here end with birdsong or field recordings feels important. There are multiple potential meanings to derive from that. You can interpret it as a recognition that we, as human beings are both connected to nature and somewhat removed from it. That our curiosity about nature can in itself lead to the damage or disruption of the natural world. Perhaps a more abstract idea could be that we don’t necessarily have to visit a certain location or place to connect with it spiritually; ‘the feeling of knowing it is there is enough…’
As Ash Dome progresses the story or themes become less clear. The evolution of the album mirrors the evolution of the story and the art of Nash’s Ash Dome. That mystery and freedom towards the end of the record to me represents the freedom that some of Nash’s most famous works (including Ash Dome) take on. They move and they live and they breathe and ultimately they become something different to what they started out as, they become lots of different things in fact. Ever changing and constantly evolving. R.Seiliog has created a piece of work that operates in a similar way. This music evolves and grows and breathes. In fact, it lives. It is art and it is unique art, despite the similarities with Nash’s work that I’ve highlighted and despite the title and the inspiration drawn from Nash’s Ash Dome. You could quite easily and quite happily listen to this record without any knowledge of David Nash or his work and you’ll be just as mesmerised and enthralled as if you listen to it seeking meaning or comparisons. And in many ways there lies the beauty of music and art and culture. You, the listener, the consumer, develop a relationship with the art and its meaning and significance becomes unique to you.
Ash Dome is another brilliant edition to the Cue Dot series. The diverse and occasionally enigmatic qualities of the record sit perfectly amongst a great collection of records released so far by the label. R.Seiliog has produced a great album full of enchantment, beauty and mystery. It is the type of album you can’t listen to just once, and once you’ve heard it you wouldn’t want to discard it anyway. It is art and music and nature all rolled up into one experience and it is worth your time.
R.Seiliog – Ash Dome is released on 27th August 2021 on Cue Dot Records.